CHAPTER X — Murderball
Here I go.
Alex swallowed down on whatever was rising up her throat as she stopped short of walking into the gym. She heard the playful banter being shouted around by male voices, rising above the sound of metal crashing against metal—so different from the usual scratching sneakers on the court floor one would expect from a gymnasium.
Another woman walked past her and only then Alex managed to control the anxiety and follow her inside. She brushed the palm of her hands in her jeans and squinted at the brightness of the court. She heard, more than saw, the men in wheelchairs zooming in front of her, their protected cambered wheels painted in different colors, with stickers glued to them—though they spun so fast she could barely notice anything. As fast as her heart, if she was being honest.
Feeling airheaded, Alex walked to the bleachers and plopped down. She tried to spot Elliot, but things were moving too fast. She didn’t understand rugby—there were two sports she knew well and those were volleyball and soccer (Liberté, Égalité, PSG!) , otherwise, nothing. All she knew was how long she’d craved to watch live wheelchair sports. Now that she lived alone, she’d sit in front of TV for the Paralympics and watch everything, from fencing to basketball. She’d wonder what it would be like—not playing, but being one of those people on the sidelines, the girlfriends and wives . And her entire life, she’d fought those feelings, telling herself how everyone would take a look at that unaccompanied woman and immediately know what sort of freak she was. She couldn’t bring herself to do it.
But now she had the opportunity. And it felt nice—warm and disorientating. Exciting, because she knew that as soon as the game was over, one of those guys would wheel straight to her, and he’d kiss her like she belonged there. Not a freak.
She felt the smile reaching the corner of her lips just when she spotted Elliot, looking flushed and dishevelled, wearing a white jersey that showed his powerful upper arms. There was something about the way he moved in his rugby chair, a determination in his squinting eyes as he leaned forward and carried the ball in his lap to the end of the court, that made Alex so much more excited than she’d ever been for any male volleyball practices she’d stayed behind to watch with Callie.
She gave a happy squeal when she noticed Elliot had scored a point, one of his arms raised above his head and a gleam to his face, but her reaction was a little delayed and the game was already moving again—that’s when, in the middle of the court, having passed the ball to a guy ahead of him, Elliot spotted her. His whole face lit up and he blew hair from his eyes, grinning widely and looking so incredibly boyish. She raised a hand to give him a wave, and he was about to do the same when someone knocked against him full force, tipping his chair sideways. Alex leapt to her feet as an immediate reaction. Even though that fall was harder than the one weeks ago, outside her apartment, it looked more controlled—his legs didn’t flop all over him and he still seemed perfectly attached to his chair.
Alex fought the urge to go in his direction, watching as three guys from his team positioned themselves one at each side and the other behind him, and pulled him back onto his wheels easily, as if they did it all the time—which they probably did. He high fived them with his glove and adjusted himself before looking at Alex again with a mildly embarrassed look.
“You okay?” She mouthed. He smiled, brushing his hair off his eyes with his forearm, covered in a black sleeve, and nodded.
Alex blew him a kiss. Not a freak.
Like a medieval knight claiming his damsel after a tournament, Elliot rode in her direction, smiling, an aura of victory surrounding him. He had a spray bottle of water between his knees and when he was close enough, Alex felt herself being pulled in his direction.
She kissed him, feeling his chuckle when his friends howled in the background as they wheeled past them. Alex felt her chest expand. This was so right.
“Get a room, you two!”
“Fuck off, Dave,” Elliot shouted, mid kiss.
When they parted, Elliot nodded at his bottle.
“Could you spray that on me? Not easy with the gloves.” He asked and she took it from his lap and sprayed it on his face and neck, getting a playful chuckle from him, even though he closed his eyes and his shoulders sagged with obvious relief. “Thanks. Heat is a bitch.”
She put her hands on his knees and leaned forward again for another peck. “Not all kinds of heat, I hope.”
Elliot spun around, fully laughing now. She followed him into the court, heart racing. He slowed down to place one of his gloved hands in the curve of her ass, maybe a little bit possessively. She appreciated it.
He introduced her and some of the guys who were fooling around the court with the ball turned around to see her. She felt herself blush under their wide grins, thinking that had she not been with Elliot, she’d already have fainted by now. Impressively enough, looking at them now, she didn’t feel anything at all other than pride and happiness of being Elliot’s girl.
“Do you play anything, Alex?” one of the guys, Pete, spun his chair around them, looking like an overexcited eleven year old.
She shrugged, trying to play it down. For some reason, she felt uncomfortable in admitting her passion for volleyball to an amputee. “Volleyball. Sometimes.”
“Sometimes my ass. She plays volleyball at least twice a week.” Elliot answered, resting his gloved palm on her ass. He looked proud and she smiled. “I’ve seen her going to practise with a sprained ankle. Never misses it.”
“It’s just a hobby.”
The guys chuckled.
“So, do you know murderball?” Pete passed her the ball, which she reflexively took right before it hit her stomach.
“Murderball?” She pressed it between her hands. “Hey, this is a volleyball.”
“Quad rugby.” Elliot translated. “And yeah, same size and weight.”
“Oh. Hm. Not really. But I think I got it from watching you. Rough game.”
“It’s a contact sport, like rugby.”
“I don’t know rugby either.”
“Grab a chair, we’ll teach you.”
Alex hoped the surprise she felt wasn’t as clear in her face. She had to press her nails against her palms to ground herself.
“Oh, no.” She stepped back. “I just got back from the gym… and we have to go. Right, Elliot?”
He looked up at her, raising his eyebrows only slightly right before shaking his head with a low chuckle.
“Yeah, we have to go.”
Alex followed him back to where his day chair was parked, a gym bag over it, and he proceeded to brush his palms against his knees. It took her a couple of seconds to realize he was trying to get rid of the gloves. He gave a frustrated sigh once he noticed it wasn’t working. Alex closed her eyes for a fraction of a second while she pondered over doing it or not.
Fuck it. She thought. It’s not a big deal.
Alex took a step closer, sitting in one of the seats to get to his height.
“Let me.” Alex asked, taking his hand in hers. Elliot gave her a funny look but said nothing, staring at her the entire time. “Oh God, is this silvertape?”
“What? Oh, yeah.” He smiled. “It’s to keep the glove from sliding off.”
“Boys and their toys, I guess.” She laughed, using her nails to get past the tape, firmly tightened around the length of his black Nike arm sleeves. She managed to take the gloves off, throwing them inside his gym bag and facing him again with a smile. “Done.”
He reached forward, stealing a light kiss from her.
Her insides warmed up at the word. See, it wasn’t a big deal. Except it was.
Alex rounded his wheelchair, parked right next to the bed, his sneakers placed on top of the cushion. She’d made it three steps when he pulled back the sheet, the only thing covering her nakedness.
“Oh my God, Elliot.” She crossed her arms in front of her boobs, crouching slightly.
“It’s not like I haven’t seen you naked.” He laughed.
She stuck out her tongue.
“Come back.” He insisted, patting the place she’d just left, right beside him.
“I need to take a shower.”
“You already did.”
“Well, some of us do sweat.”
He laughed as she walked towards the master bathroom, and just as she reached it, a pillow flew straight against her bare ass. She closed the door behind her with a smile, faced with her own reflection in his mirror.
Once again, Alex noticed the adaptations there—the lowered sink and mirror, the parallel bars around the toilet seat, the roll-in shower with a cushioned shower chair. Like the rest of his condo, none of that seemed the kind of last minute addition to accommodate his needs, but very natural, like it’d always been and always would be there. Once again, she had to compliment whomever had thought of such an intricate design to the adaptations and the way they worked so perfectly, like an organism. She was taking notes.
Alex brought the showerhead to her body instead of standing under it, as it felt wrong to sit in the shower chair, just like earlier the mere thought of sitting in a wheelchair had. She was quick and tiptoed out of the bathroom only a few minutes later to grab her toothbrush from her purse. Elliot watched her with a wolfish smile, but he was holding his phone to his ear.
“Yeah. No. Sure.” He answered in a monotone voice, staring at her as she stood against the doorway, brushing her teeth.
He’d covered himself up to his armpits, like he always did whenever he got the chance, and she still hadn’t seen him without his pants on. They didn’t talk about it and she wished she could tell him how incredibly and irresistibly sexy she thought he was. Slowly, Alex. Slowly.
“I’ll see, mom. I promise.” She heard him saying as she rinsed her mouth. “I’ll ask her. Yeah. Bye. Love ya’.”
When she went back to the room, he was done with the call. She crawled back into bed, snuggling in close with him and resting her head over his chest.
“Your mom?” She asked.
“What did she want?”
“Oh, you know. The usual.”
Alex didn’t know. She wrapped a leg around his narrow waist and kissed his chiseled jaw, feeling the characteristic smell of his shampoo. He was so great. There were times Alex surprised herself by just how much she liked him.
Elliot buried his nose in her hair, kissing the top of her head as he stroked her leg with his knuckles. She fell asleep like that. Belonging.
The mattress sank next to her head. She tuned her ears to the man next to her only to hear his ragged breath and deep, low grunts as he pushed his palms into the mattress to sit up. Alex opened her eyes just in time to see a grimace in Elliot’s face as he pulled his body with great difficulty to the edge of the bed. He’s in pain, she noticed, her chest clenching with sadness. She didn’t say anything that would betray the fact that she was awake, but she watched as he transferred into his chair and wheeled away. She also saw the bright blackish purple bruise around his ribs.
She heard the water running in the bathroom sink for several minutes and considered going after him. And after a while, she did. Alex snuck out of bed on her tiptoes and peeked inside the bathroom. There was Elliot, leaning over the sink, his forehead touching the lowered counter. Pill bottles around him. His breath was uneven, but steady---the way they are when you try to get rid of the pain. Her heart ached for him.
Maybe she should’ve made her presence heard, but then he sat up and pushed back. Alex ran back to bed as fast as she could, jumping back into the sheets. She lowered down between the pillows and went back to the position she’d initially been in. The rattle of pill bottles. The low grunt when he wheeled back into the room. She pretended to wake up just then, sitting up with a lazy groan.
Elliot managed a smile, but the heavy bags under his eyes and just how slouched he was in his chair told her just how terrible he was.
“Sorry, did I wake you up?” He approached the bed.
“Oh, no.” She sat back against the headboard. Her heart thumped in her ears. Elliot pressed his fist against the mattress and tried and failed a transfer a few times, his shoulders moving but his lower body just getting no momentum, before angling his chair closer and finally managing it with a painful grunt. “Hey, what’s it?”
“Hm?” He masked the sound by clearing his throat. “Nothing.”
Alex bit her tongue before proceeding. She’d spent the entire night hearing those painful sounds he so expertly tried to hide. His pushes had been slow and uneven. She’d noticed how only by miracle he’d managed the transfers without landing on the floor.
“Roll over.” She said as he pulled his legs onto the bed by the knees.
“What?” He frowned at her.
“Roll over.” She ordered. “I’ll give you a massage.”
“Alex, that’s really… it’s fine, I swear.”
“Roll over, Elliot.” She cleared the space, pushing the pillows and blankets out of the way.
He stared at her for a moment. He released a deep sigh and raised one arm above his head, his balance precarious, and Alex was quick to pull the black sweatshirt over his head. Elliot crossed his left ankle over his right, swinging his shoulders and using the momentum to roll over to the right, putting a pillow under his chin. As soon as he did it and she had the full view of his naked back, her eyes widened at the sight of a huge purple bruise around the area of his ribs.
"Oh, God" she muttered. "You need an ice pack for this."
"Shit." He growled into the pillow.
Alex was careful when she mounted him, right on top of his ass. It was skinny and slightly bony, and she had to swallow down some nasty guilt — because she thought it was sexy. She began unknotting the tight muscles down his back, using her knuckles. As she massaged up his back, around his shoulders where he could feel, she heard a couple raw, relieved sounds from him. God, he was so sexy.
"Babe, I'm gonna go get my pain relief spray", she warned, reaching for her bag and climbing on top of him again.
"I don't believe in that stuff."
"You don't have to," she was shaking the can. "Hold your breath. This one is strong."
"Fuck my sheets."
At least he chuckled.
Alex sprayed it all over his back, then carefully slid herself to the side, falling right next to his face. His eyes were only half open, but he moved his arm from under the pillow and put his hand affectionately on her face, brushing his knuckles up and down on her cheeks.
"Thanks." He said, so close she could feel his minty breath. "You're so beautiful."
"You too," she grinned.
Alex reached behind his neck and lightly traced his spinal scar. He purred like a cat under her fingers, rolling his eyes. She kept the soft motion, moving her nails around his scalp, his soft hair between her fingers. Alex felt light, and a million thoughts escaped her mind. She was drifting away, barely able to keep her eyes open.
"Alex?" He asked, as sleepy as she. She released a hum?, eyes still closed, so far away… "We're serious."
He simply stated. It wasn't a question. That seemed to wake her up a little, but only a bit. Eyes half open, she saw that his own were wide, carefully watching her.
"You're coming with me, then."
Alex opened her eyes and sat up straight, frowning. "What? Where?".
He was silent for a moment, then shook his head. "Nevermind." Then propelled himself up on his elbow.
Alex opened her eyes, and sat up straight. "What is it? C'mon, tell me."
Elliot seemed to be carefully measuring her, as if trying to figure her out. Either that or he needed his glasses. He finally let out a sigh and fell on his stomach again, mouth half buried on his pillow.
"At my parents'..."
She didn't like where this was going.
"Anniversary. On Christmas.".
"What I mean is… Will you- I mean, do you wanna…"
Even though her insides were twisting and her mouth was dry, and a single thought ran through her head, she smiled.
"Remind me again how on earth you are a lawyer "
"I did convince you, didn't I?"
Alex rolled her eyes. "A damn good lawyer."
He laced his arm around her waist, pulling her back to where she belonged—right next to him. And that was undeniable; nothing had ever felt so right. And yet, that nasty, wounded part of her screamed in the back of her head: